A Cultural Approach to Environmental Ethics: Milton, Nietzsche, and Indian Philosophy

Kenneth Lee Koenemann, University of Texas at El Paso


The aim of this M.A. thesis is to explore the way in which cultural factors have influenced humankind’s relationship with the natural world, including plant life, animal life, and the ecology of planet Earth as a whole. While quantitative, scientific analysis provides objective evidence of global climate change that is being propelled by human activity, I argue that the religious and philosophical beliefs of individuals and societies has played, continues to play, and will continue to play an indelible role in the way in which humans consider other humans and the natural world at large. I focus primarily on Western culture and the ways that Christianity and Western Philosophy have promoted anthropocentric valuations which have resulted in ecologically unsustainable practices that continue to threaten the habitability of the Earth in this epoch dubbed the Anthropocene. In chapter 1, I engage with Christianity through the work of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is an epic poem from the Renaissance age that was intended to promote Christian Reformation, and which provides poetic and philosophic insight into the mythos and ideology of Christianity. Then, in chapter 2, I focus on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche in order to expound upon his critiques of Christianity and to explore his tragic, existential philosophy. Ultimately, I will show that both worldviews, being thoroughly anthropocentric, fail to promote normative values that adequately encourage us to embrace an ethical relationship with non-human life which is necessary if we hope to improve our ecological trajectory that is leading toward climate catastrophe. However, in chapter 3, I conclude that a phenomenological approach to and engagement with other worldviews, along with an intentional imperative for transvaluation, can help us to find an ethical way forward. Only by expanding our conceptual and cultural horizons beyond hemispherical ways of thinking can we develop a global approach to the global problem of climate change and the realities of the Anthropocene. As such, I present Indian Philosophy as an example of an Eastern worldview that embodies philosophical concepts which promote a more ethical concern for life itself, of all forms, rather than just the lives of human beings. Though these different worldviews are at odds in many ways, there are common threads that allow us to weave a conceptual tapestry of ethical unity, in the name of a common cause.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Philosophy of religion|Ethics

Recommended Citation

Koenemann, Kenneth Lee, "A Cultural Approach to Environmental Ethics: Milton, Nietzsche, and Indian Philosophy" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30521547.